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Rempel Garner bows out of running for Alberta UCP leadership, citing caucus divisions

EDMONTON — Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner says she will not run in the race to replace Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, characterizing his United Conservative caucus and party as rife with anger, intrigue and implacable division.
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Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on April 5, 2022. Rempel Garner says she will not run in the race to replace Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, characterizing his United Conservative caucus and party as rife with anger, intrigue and implacable division. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

EDMONTON — Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner says she will not run in the race to replace Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, characterizing his United Conservative caucus and party as rife with anger, intrigue and implacable division.

Rempel Garner said in a social media post Thursday that she has the willingness, experience, fundraising and popular support to take a serious run at the job, but questioned how she could repair the profound rifts while preparing for a provincial election next spring.

“In the hundred-plus conversations I’ve had with folks close to the situation over the last week, my key takeaway was that the acrimony that led up to Jason’s leadership review is still raw,” wrote Rempel Garner.

“A clear division exists,” she added. 

“(There are) those who don’t want the former leadership team to retain any hold on power and those who are part of the former leadership team and want to entirely maintain the status quo.

“Neither of these positions are tenable. The public has no sympathy for it, either.”

She said, “No one I talked to felt there was a simple policy vision that could inspire the team enough to easily overcome this division in a short period of time.”

Rempel Garner, the MP for Calgary Nose Hill, announced on Twitter last week she was seriously considering a run for the job, stepping aside as campaign co-chair for Patrick Brown’s federal Conservative leadership bid to do so.

She said the capstone on her decision came earlier this week when it was learned that several United Conservative caucus members, some of whom she has long friendships with, fought against granting her a waiver on her lapsed party membership card to allow her to run.

"And while the waiver was granted, and I didn’t take any of this stuff to heart, my suspicions about what I’d be in for from caucus if I became leader were validated," she wrote.

Rempel Garner said the problems she is seeing in the UCP mirror problems in the federal Conservative party as it recently cycled through leaders Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole.

“In both parties there have also been squabbles that have erupted in the pages of national media: public meltdowns, nearly missed physical fights, coups, smear jobs, leaked recordings and confidential emails, lack of consensus on critical issues, caucus turfings, people harassed to the point where they resign roles, and hours-long meetings where members have been subjected to hours of public castigation,” she wrote.

“In virtually every other workplace much of the stuff that has happened would be treated as a violation of labour codes, but in politics it's considered Human Resources 101.”

Kenney announced last month he was stepping down as UCP leader and premier after receiving just 51 per cent support in a party leadership review. 

The vote followed more than a year of public attacks and sniping within Kenney’s caucus and party over his performance as leader. 

Kenney has blamed critics he said never forgave him for limiting public freedoms to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Others, including caucus members, said he ran an arrogant, exclusionary, top-down and tone-deaf administration that was too deferential to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s federal government.

Kenney will step down when a new leader is chosen Oct. 6.

There are eight candidates who have announced they are running, including four former Kenney cabinet ministers.

One of those candidates, former Wildrose party leader Danielle Smith, wrote on Twitter, that many Rempel Garner’s concerns regarding the UCP are valid.

“Unity cannot be an empty phrase demanded by the status quo or a single party leader," Smith wrote. "It must be earned through policy that rebuilds trust, especially among our middle class."

The United Conservative Party formed in 2017 when the Progressive Conservatives under Jason Kenney and Wildrose Party joined forces. 

Kenney was named the inaugural leader and the party won a majority government in 2019.

 This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 23, 2022.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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